It might be the second most popular theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris, but Puy du Fou is well-kept secret. This history-based theme park set in the Vendée region of central west France is little known outside the country. It celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. We visited last summer, and came away unsurprised that over two million people are drawn through its doors every year.
Here’s what to expect from Puy du Fou.
Even the most bitter cynic would fail to be impressed by the technical accomplishment of Puy du Fou’s shows. On any one day, visitors to the theme park can choose between up to 12 performances, some repeated two or three times. Each show is astonishing. Depending on which you choose, you’ll see acrobatics on horseback; lions, wild boar, wolves, and – in the bird show – around 200 birds of prey, circling and sweeping low over your head; and international award-winning pyrotechnics. Puy du Fou’s showcase performance, Cinéscénie, boasts 2,000 actors and is played out over a water-covered space of 23 hectares.
It was impossible to see all the shows in one day, so we split up for part of it. The whole family saw Les Vikings, the mystical Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes, with levitating maidens and birds of prey. We also watched the 15-minute choreographed water fountain display, Les Grandes Eaux. D took our son to see a show about Gladiators, Le Signe de Triomph. I went with our daughter to watch what was billed as a show about knights and princesses, but turned out to be the story of Joan of Arc, Le Secret de la Lance. Each show lasts around an hour, and Puy du Fou covers a large area – 55 hectares, or 140 acres – so it was too far for little legs to manage more dashing about between shows than this.
Puy du Fou is described as a history-based theme park. Its shows are all based around legendary tales from French and European history. As well as the shows, dotted around the park are reconstructions based on different eras. There’s a Medieval city, with gift shops, and an 18th Century village, where you can grab some fresh bread from the baker’s window.
Puy du Fou was set up in 1977 by Phillipe de Villiers, who later went on to gain success as a politician on the right-wing, Catholic side of French politics. His theme park reflects has a heavily Christian focus; I felt it would have been helpful to flag this up in their publicity material. When we visited last summer the historical shows covered a wide sweep across the centuries – and Christians always came up trumps. The (real-life) lions in the Gladiator show refused to eat the captive Christians, causing the Romans to convert to Christianity. Joan of Ark harnessed the power of God to battle marauding knights. And – in a slightly baffling twist – pillaging Vikings were subdued by the authority of a priest, who came out to bless them while they ransacked a village.
It wasn’t too far from versions of historical events I’ve heard here in the UK, but it still felt a little heavy-handed. I suspect someone from a non-Christian faith may have been uncomfortable with some of the plot twists in the shows.
There’s on-site accommodation at Puy du Fou, as well as over twenty restaurants and snack bars. So long as you arm yourself with hats and plenty of water (there’s no shelter from the sun when you’re watching the shows), the theme park is an easy place to navigate with children.
When we visited in the height of summer the place was scorching hot. Dusty grit puffed up from the path with each footstep. But every hundred yards or so you could bathe in deliciously cooling jets of steam, from pipework concealed in rocks or trellises. Inside the park, clear signs showed you where to go for each performance, and monitors gave live information about which shows were about to open their doors. Surprisingly, given the massive volume of people watching each show (some of them seated over 500), none of the queues seemd to be particurly long. It was easy to find somewhere to sit, and performances began with clockwork regularity.
The grounds themselves were picturesque and well-kept. The park’s meandering path took you up past shady mini-waterfalls, and down past sackcloth-dressed gardeners. Like Alice in Wonderland’s playing cards tending the Red Queen’s roses, they pruned bushes and diligently swept lawns.
Our four-year-old wasn’t a big fan of the shows themselves (too many booming sounds, and peril). She did enjoy petting the theme park’s animals – horses, donkeys and goats – and playing in the knights’ fortress. At six my son was just about old enough to appreciate the spectacular performances, but even he struggled to use the audio translation headset (all the shows are in French). I’d say that children aged ten and over would enjoy Puy du Fou more.
We were guests of Puy du Fou theme park. Ticket prices vary, and there are places to stay in the theme park itself. See the Puy du Fou website for more details.
If you’d like to read more about our stay in the Vendée region, here are some other posts:
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